She grew up adoring funny ladies Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin and moved to Los Angeles from Arizona at age 18 to make it as a musical comedian. With some interesting and critically acclaimed career twists in between—from starting as a manicurist to acting opposite Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy to playing the first out lesbian character on the sitcom Roseanne—Sandra Bernhard, 61, is currently selling out Joe’s Pub doing what she aimed to do from the beginning: tell funny stories and sing songs. Her new show, Sandra Monica Blvd: Coast to Coast, playing through the holidays, will help you brace for the new year with laughter and singalongs. She chatted with WSWD about how she celebrates the season, stand-up comedy, and riding the subway.
What Should We Do: What can you tell us about your Sandra Monica show?
Sandra Bernhard: It’s a combination of me telling funny stories, anecdotal personal stories, and interesting observations that take place throughout my days, you know, walking around New York and doing my radio show on Sirius. And I interweave it with great songs that I have my band, The Sandyland Squad, play. The show’s got different levels, you know, high highs and some quiet, introspective pieces.
WSWD: Besides the show, what else are you doing for the holidays?
Bernhard: Well, Hanukkah and Christmas converge this year, which is very unusual. My girlfriend [Sara Switzer] is not Jewish and my daughter (Cicely, 18) prefers Christmas over Hanukkah, but we will light Hanukkah candles. We’ll fold both holidays into the same soufflé this year. Before the show at Joe’s Pub, we’ll get food from Vic’s or il Buco, which are both right around the corner. And on Christmas Eve, we’re going out to dinner at Le Coq Rico. Everybody’s been talking about that restaurant, so I’m excited.
WSWD: Do you have a Christmas tree?
Bernhard: We usually have a tree up, but nobody seems to have been motivated yet this year and I’m kind of not saying anything because [a tree] really drives me nuts. I’m fastidious and all those little pine needles fall off and make me crazy. Plus, our dog George tries to eat the branches. A tree is pretty and fun, of course, but I’m just not in the mood for it this year.
WSWD: You need one of those little Dirt Devils.
Bernhard: Yeah, well, I get hard core and pull out the big vacuum, you know the Miele vacuum.
WSWD: You don’t seem like you would be a fastidious person.
Bernhard: Oh, I am. I mean, the only reason I can be so carefree and spontaneous on stage is because everything in my day-to-day life is so organized and kind of contained. It really helps to be organized when you’re in this business.
WSWD: You’re often described as “brash.” Do you think that’s accurate?
Bernhard: I hope I still am. I mean, these days, we have one of the most outrageous governments ever being assembled. So I feel like, gee, am I even that outrageous still?
WSWD: Do you go out to see a lot of stand-up comedy in the city?
Bernhard: No, stand-up comedy has never really spoken to me even though that’s where I started my career. It’s just not that captivating or glamorous. I go see live music instead, or I go see people like Lady Bunny or Justin Vivian Bond or Buster Pointdexter or Nora Burns who’s in the comedy group Unitard. I like shows that have a musical element and a creative downtown vibe. But most nights, I usually just stop at Whole Foods to pick up stuff for dinner. I come home, do some work, do some writing, make dinner, and then we find a good show that we enjoy watching. Right now we’re in the middle of Stranger Things.
WSWD: What’s it like being a celebrity here? Are people used to seeing you around your neighborhood at this point?
Bernhard: People are pretty cool. New Yorkers tend to be very focused. They’re busy, they’re on the move, they’re in the middle of their day, they’re doing their thing. When people do recognize me, they’re super sweet and say wonderful things and it’s usually a really nice, quick exchange. Like, in line at Whole Foods somebody will look over and we’ll just kind of smile at each other or on the subway somebody will look across and say, “oh, hey.”
WSWD: You take the subway?
Bernhard: More and more. I mean, it’s the only way to get to Midtown on time for my radio show. Actually my guest tomorrow on the show is Beth Behrs from 2 Broke Girls and the other day I was on the subway and I looked up and she was sitting across from me! We both, like, screamed. She was coming in from Brooklyn to rehearse a play. So we sat with each other until I got off. That was a really cute surprise.
Sandra Bernhard’s Sandra Monica Blvd: Coast to Coast
December 26–30, shows at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
December 31, shows at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Tickets start at $60